In 2002, an unassuming music fan known by the recondite geometric moniker John Hexagon was ruminating on having to miss the show of one of his favorite bands, the European avant-pop outfit Stereolab. Hexagon’s new domestic responsibilities had kept him at home. Rather than bemoan what he was missing by not being there, he decided to attempt to create his own Stereolab-inspired music to fill the void. A novice musician at best, he began fooling with some production software a friend had given him, trying to see what he could figure out. Now, more than decade and a half later, Hexagon is still obsessively composing music and can boast of having penned more than 100 songs by his most recent count.
The vehicle for Hexagon’s music is the Candlelight Service, an eclectic mix of electroclash, space rock, and ’60s psychedelia. Last week, The Candlelight Service released a new EP, a four-song slow-psych aperitif called Turn On. And turning on is exactly what Hexagon hopes listeners are going to do when they hear it.
“I hope people find love and peace from it,” Hexagon said over drinks recently, a brief moment of brightness washing over his face in place of the shy nervous energy he normally displays. “I hope they transform to a higher level of consciousness of themselves.”
The Candlelight Service isn’t a band in the true sense, though on any given album, the requisite rock instrumentation is present, written and performed by a group of people sharing a unified vision. Hexagon describes The Candlelight Service as more of a concept.
“I feel this album is the closest I’ve come to living up to the name the Candlelight Service,” he said. Turn On “is really about dealing with death in a sense and hoping that in some way we live forever and that our loved ones will, too.”
Over the years, The Candlelight Service has incorporated a revolving cast of friends and colleagues who have contributed to the project’s ever-growing discography. Hexagon always provides the foundation, but with each new batch of songs, the current collaborators add their own influence by writing instrument parts, lyrics, and vocals to Hexagon’s baseline offerings. The result is a malleable, ever-evolving sound. Each release is a new direction, albeit with Hexagon’s plate-reverb-treated electronics providing the root.
In the past, Hexagon has joined forces with Charles Mooney, a founding member of The Toadies, and Cory Watson and Brian McCorquodale of the early-2000s Fort Worth darkwave band Black Tie Dynasty. He even collaborated on a 29-minute atmospheric space-rock opus with his own 12-year-old son. All “fearlessly recorded,” as he puts it, but forgoing any rehearsal and allowing just a single take to document a song.
For Turn On, Hexagon recruited the husband-and-wife duo of Burette and Gabrielle Douglas, who co-front dreamy psych-gazers The Cush. Hexagon and the Douglases have been friends for decades dating back to the Lollapalooza festivals of the ’90s, shows they attended together as they tried to reconcile the sudden mainstreaming of alternative music. Coincidentally, Gabby was also nextdoor neighbors with Hexagon’s wife when they were children.
The Douglases’ impact on The Candlelight Service with Turn On is evident from the start. Burette’s spacey slapback vocals weave in and out of George Harrison-style reverse guitar on the opener “Revolution Again.” Gabby recalls ’90s trip-hop seraphs with her deceptively powerful falsetto on the synth-driven “All Around You.”
It’s the surprise of what others can offer musically and even emotionally each time that Hexagon always finds so fascinating.
“As an artist, to have other people’s poetry on there is an honor,” he said. “I feel validated as an artist when I can work with The Cush, or Black Tie, or anyone. It’s like living as a flower –– to be a flower, to live, to die, and to live again. It’s a really beautiful thing.”